The Eurostar: a brilliant way to travel to the continent

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I have always liked the idea of travelling by the Eurostar.  In my head, I imagined it would be a very glamorous way to travel.  The reality is, it is pretty much just a normal train – it goes a little bit faster, the seats are a little bit more comfortable, it is a little bit more spacious and there is more room for luggage.

Eurostar Leisure Select Seats

By Gary Bembridge from London/ New York, UK (Eurostar Leisure Select Seats) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s why I will definitely travel by Eurostar again:-

1. It is cheap

There are no direct flights between Newcastle and Belgium.  At £109 return, the Eurostar was by far the cheapest option for travelling to Belgium, even factoring in return transport and an overnight stay in London.  Prices do change, so I would advise checking the website and booking early.  We booked about 7 weeks in advance to get that price.

2. It is quick

The journey time to Brussels is just over two hours, which is comparable to flyying when you consider that the Gare du Midi is only a couple of tram stops away from the  centre of Brussels.

3. It is a gateway to the whole of mainland Europe

I’m not all that keen on flying, but I don’t let it interfere with my travelling.  For anyone who does have a real phobia of flying, taking the Eurostar to Paris or Brussels is a fantastic alternative.  Both Paris and Brussels are really well connected transport hubs, and so from there you can catch a train overland to almost anywhere in Europe.  Travelling by train in Europe is much cheaper and the rail network is much more extensive that the UK so I would highly recommend it.

High Speed Railroad Map of Europe 2013

By Original PNG : User:Bernese media, User:BIL 2011 SVG version: User:Akwa and others (see source file) (File:High_Speed_Railroad_Map_Europe_2011.svg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

As much as I enjoyed travelling by the Eurostar, I did learn some lessons for using the Eurostar in the future.  Here they are:-

1. Arrive at St Pancras early

Our train out was at 6.57am.  The advice from Eurostar is to arrive 30 minutes before departure to check in.  We arrived 40 minutes early and we would have been cutting it very fine if we had only allowed the recommended 30 minutes.  This might just be down to travelling on a Saturday in August, but there were huge queues as people were also checking in for a train to Paris departing about 15 minutes later.  Although the staff did attempt to fast track the people on our train, their system for doing so was nothing more sophisticated than staff members wandering round the queues with a piece of A4 paper with our train written on.  Luckily we spotted a lady with such a sign and tried to follow her as best as we could, hoping that we were headed in the right direction.  We made it on with about 10 minutes to spare.  The train was very punctual and I don’t think it would have waited for anyone stuck in passport control.

We arrived about 50 minutes before departure in Brussels for the return journey and it was a much less stressful experience.  However, it did seem more organised on the Belgian side in general, as they had separate check in times for the different trains.

St Pancras (6767046481)

By Lies Thru a Lens  (St Pancras Uploaded by tm) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Pick a middle carriage

When booking Eurostar tickets, you will be automatically allocated seats which you can change free of charge as part of the booking process.  We didn’t change the seat allocation on either journey, but if I was booking again, I would change it to the middle carriages.  These seemed to be quieter and had more storage space for luggage.

3. Take your own food and drinks

I would always do this on a train travelling within the UK, so I don’t know why I didn’t on the Eurostar!  There are two restaurant cars on board, however, as with all train travel, it is much more expensive to buy food and drink on board.  As it was a short journey, even though we were both hungry, we decided just sort out breakfast in Brussels.

We decided stop for breakfast at a cafe in the train station, following Wandering Earl’s excellent advice about how to spend your first 20 minutes in a new place.  I will defintely take some time out again when arriving in a new country, as it gave us a chance to relax, to get our bearings and figure out where we needed to go next in our own time.

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2 responses to “The Eurostar: a brilliant way to travel to the continent

  1. I have always found rail travel exciting. In my student days interrail was the thing to do. You got the rail map of europe and with a little paper booket you just wrote your journey in you could travel from Finland to Morrocco, Norway to Greece and everything in between for 4 weeks. And, whats more, being a Durham lad, you can always feel a bit of reflected glory as the North-East and County Durham, more than anywhere else, can truly claim to be the birthplace of the Railways developed out of innovative minds seeking solutions to the transportation of Coal. Bowes Incline/Causey Arch/Stockton& Darlington/George and Robert Stevenson all backing this up. As you travel to County Durham as a visitor please ignore the terrible marketing phrase of “Land of the Prince Bishops” (does anyone really know what that means?). “Birthplace of the Railways” may be a better phrase.

  2. Pingback: Belgium on a Budget | 500adventures·

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